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PRC High School program provides students with a taste of careers in Culinary Arts

Seventeen year old Jackson Lott, is already well on his way to achieving his career goals.

“I want to own my own restaurant, that’s always been my dream and that’s what I plan on doing,” he said.

Jackson is in Pearl River Central’s Culinary Arts training program, which is a hands-on, job-training class where students learn everything about operating a restaurant and becoming a chef. Jackson is now one of two students from the Culinary Arts program to be accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, since the program was started.

Fellow senior, Savanna Duncan, also plans on working in the culinary world as an adult. And it was this class and instructor Quinten McCardle, that helped her make that decision.

“Honestly, my friend convinced me to take this class,” Savanna said as she chopped olives. “Before this I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school and I would change my mind every other month, but because of this class I have discovered a love for cooking and I’ve decided this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Instead of going to the Culinary Institute of America, like Jackson, Savanna has decided to stay close to home and attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which offers both an associates of Culinary Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts through a partnership with Mississippi University for Women.

Both Jackson and Savannah, and any other student who chooses to study culinary arts post secondary, will be ahead of the game thanks to the ProStart certification students receive upon finishing the program, which can be used in place of introductory courses for most programs.

The ProStart certification is a nationwide certification that was created by the National Restaurant Association, who also wrote most of the curricula for the Culinary Arts Program. Being ProStart certified not only helps those students who want to continue their studies, but it also helps the students who want to go straight into the industry.

“It’s a nationwide industry certification that students who complete this program can have when they leave high school,” McCardle explained. “It’s important for Mississippi especially because the majority of our kids are going to either go straight into the work force or into a two year career tech program and this really helps them.”

Along with this certification students leave McCardle’s classroom with a solid foundation of restaurant management, nutrition, safety and sanitation, as well as cooking techniques, seasoning, pairing flavors and building a good dish.

“But this is not a home ec class,” McCardle said. “It’s strictly food service. It’s commercial cooking. Of course they can take these skills home with them and use them but we don’t do a lot with a house hold budget and planning a meal for a family. We do more institutional restaurant style, just like the ROTC Winter Ball we’re catering for 200 people. A lot of it has to do with the types of dishes they make and the quantity because that’s a lot of what they are planning for. It’s not for a family, it’s like if I’m running a restaurant and I need meals for 500 people how much of this am I going to have to make how much will it cost and how much do I charge.“

McCardle explained that they are asked to cater school events like school board luncheons and holiday meals for the staff and administrators all the time. Recently McCardle’s students had the opportunity to cater their largest event so far. The second year students took on the task of planning and executing a meal for 200 people when they catered the ROTC Winter Formal last Saturday.

When the class is asked to cater an event or a meal the second year students are left in charge. They plan out the budget and the menu themselves. McCardle explained that he double checks their plans but that they do all the planning, prepping and cooking.

Although the program has produced several students who have gone on to pursue a career in culinary arts, not all of McCardle’s students wish to do that, like senior Eli Lee.

“I took this class because I love McCardle, he’s the man,” Lee said, while wrapping chicken in bacon for the school board lunch that afternoon. “I’m hoping to go play ball somewhere so I’m not planning on doing this after high school, but I’ll be able to cook for my wife someday in the future and that’s going to be pretty awesome.”

Students like Eli, who decide not to pursue a career in cooking, will find that what they've learned in the program will always be useful. They will always have a skill and the certification and training with it to fall back on if they ever need to, McCardle said.

McCardle also hopes that his students will leave the program with much more than just a good foundation of culinary arts, but will leave as upright, moral individuals, who understand the meaning of hard work, and know that everything worth having comes from hard work and dedication.

“My ultimate goal is for them to be productive citizens of society. I think Theodore Rosevelt said that ‘To educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society,’ and that has always stuck with me,” McCardle said. “I think that’s part of our job as educators, not only teach the curriculum but to educate the whole person. Whether that means spiritually, ethically, morally, I think that we should prepare these kids to go into the real world, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”


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